I-45 has some great restaurants you might drive right past. Here are our favorites.
Best Restaurants along I-45
Here are our favorite spots to dine if you find yourself on I-45. If you’ve got friends coming up to meet you from Houston; they probably won’t get lost.
First published June 2020. Last updated June 2020.
Notable craft BBQ in a cozy backyard spot near the Woodlands
🌟 — Notable in the Woodlands area.🥇 Best BBQ
There’s a new rising star on the north side craft BBQ scene, and their name is 3rd Coast BBQ. Pitmaster Troy Mulligan is a Houston native, and has mastered his art after driving around Texas and sampling ‘Q from dozens of the state’s top pits. His dedication and research is paying dividends: The centerpiece is superb brisket; remarkably moist, beautifully rendered, and with a cravable bark created by his top secret rub.
Other proteins aren’t shortchanged; the pork ribs are savory masterpieces, with a plucky texture and effortless pull from the bone. Sausage should’t be overlooked; Troy makes an outstanding boudin, with perhaps the best meat/rice balance that we’ve come across. For those eating lighter, turkey is beautifully smoky and tender. Attention to detail shows in the sides (all made in-house, don’t miss the gently spicy street corn or the excellent buns and breads (all Slow Dough, the local baking wizards.) Open Thursday through Sunday, and they’re typically sold out by 4pm.
$$ | BBQ
Quality Tex-Mex and outstanding margaritas
🌟 — Notable in the Woodlands area.🥇 Best Mexican
Solid Tex-Mex entrees and big margaritas are the main attraction at this family-owned Tex-Mex spot. Owner Adan Medina and his family differentiate their place with delicious flavored margaritas; we’re partial to the Avocado Margarita, which is smooth and delicious. Service is prompt and professional in both the big dining room and the cozy bar.
$$ | Mexican
Full Bar and Happy Hour
Elevated Vietnamese Cuisine
🌟 — Notable in the Woodlands area.🥇 Best Asian
🥇 Best Vietnamese
This hidden gem is an offshoot of Huynh, one of the best Vietnamese restaurants in Houston, so we were excited to hear of its opening. Upon visiting, our high expectations were exceeded.
Soups are superb; the pho is rich and flavorful, and the chicken wonton is light years ahead of what you’ll find at a typical Chinese spot. But don’t miss the plated entrees; they are created with an eye to bold flavors and careful attention to detail.
The space is large, bright, and airy, with a sleek modern design. It’s quickly become our preferred Vietnamese destination in the Woodlands area.
$$ | Vietnamese
Good for Vegetarians
Family favorite for upscale Tex-Mex
The Woodlands has no shortage of Mexican food, but Guadalajara Hacienda has been an area favorite for decades, thanks to its great service and a dependable kitchen. Seafood dishes stand out; the seafood enchiladas are unusual and lush. Ceviche is another standout, and looking around the dining room, you’ll see no shortage of the well-crafted margaritas. Stylish, upscale setting, ample parking.
$$ and $$$ | Mexican
Full Bar, Happy Hour, Outdoor Dining, and Upscale
Steaks and Italian in a surprisingly fashionable hideaway
🌟 — Notable in the Woodlands area.🥈 Recommended Italian
🥈 Recommended Steak
We never expected to find good food in the Holiday Inn off Research east of I-45. So we were pleasantly surprised by Johnny’s Italian Steak House, a mid-priced steakhouse that also features some very good Italian dishes. We’re particularly fond of their happy hour offerings – well priced appetizers perfect for sharing.
Chef Brittany Briden’s kitchen does an outstanding job turning out steaks that won’t break the budget; the result is a wonderfully upscale meal without the upscale prices.
Service is attentive without being intrusive and the room is beautiful and cozy, making it perfect for a getaway with that special someone. Johnny’s demonstrates that you don’t have to pay a lot to enjoy a quality steak in a beautiful setting.
$$ and $$$ | Italian and Steaks
Catering, Full Bar, Happy Hour, HRW2021, Outdoor Dining, Private Room, Romantic, and Upscale
Authentic Local Ramen Bar
Ramen lovers rejoice – The Woodlands now has a legitimate spot to relax with a soulful bowl of ramen. The talented chef hails from Japan, as does the savvy manager, and they bring their expertise in this surprisingly intricate cuisine to The Woodlands area.
The tightly edited menu features several varieties of ramen; we recommend starting with the traditional tonkatsu and working your way through the well curated options. Service is friendly and professional, and the small room is beautifully adorned with custom artwork commissioned locally by the owners.
$$ | Japanese
Great Tacos and Mexican dishes from a hidden gem
🌟 — Notable in the Woodlands area.🥈 Recommended Mexican
A hidden gem at the far west end of Sawdust (and now with a second location on I-45 just south of Woodlands Parkway), La Cocina de Roberto began as a cozy little taqueria, serving the Timber Ridge neighborhood. But the savvy owners have added more full-fledged entrees to the menu, making it one of our favorite Mexican restaurants in the Woodlands. Tacos are still delicious: Carne asada and camerón are the standouts. Don’t miss the bargain faijta / shrimp combo, or the excellent chicken enchiladas.
Alcohol is BYOB – bring your own liquor, and Roberto will provide setups. You can’t beat a bargain margarita made with premium tequila.
$ and $$ | Mexican
Affordable Tex-Mex from a local chain
Mama Juanita’s is a Conroe-based chain of Tex-Mex restaurants that offers some of the best values in town. From the wide variety of enchiladas to the plentiful seafood options to the traditional combo plates, there’s something here to please anyone. Happy hour offers great drink specials; service is friendly. The space is simply decorated and clean, and filled with patrons enjoying the very good food with family and friends.
$ and $$ | Mexican
Upscale Tex-Mex from the popular Houston chain
🌟 — Notable in the Woodlands area.🥇 Best Mexican
Houstonians love Pappas restaurants, and Pappasitos is perhaps their most popular brand. Huge margaritas, well executed Tex-Mex classics, large portions, and great service are hallmarks of this busy local chain. Prices can be a bit surprising to those who frequent small Tex-Mex joints, but regulars say that the quality, quantity, and experience make it well worth it. Insiders know about half-price fajita Wednesday, a great bargain.
$$$ | Mexican
Full Bar, Happy Hour, and Upscale
Popular local icehouse featuring live music and food until late
Sawyer Park is the new concept that’s taken over the old Papa’s Ice House space on Budde road. The space has been updated and transformed inside and out; it’s big, comfortable, and has some great amenities like a large inside stage and a huge outdoor performance space. This is an ice house first, so the vibe and the drinks are front and center, but the kitchen is punching above its weight class with food made from house-smoked BBQ. Friendly staff, large spaces.
$$ | American and BBQ
Full Bar, Happy Hour, On the Radar, and Outdoor Dining
Dallas-based chain specializing in upscale comfort food and whiskey
Whiskey Cake packs ’em in with locally-sourced comfort food in a trendy, upscale setting. The big room fills with families and groups enjoying upscale spins on classic dishes. Whiskey selection is impressive, and the signature Whiskey Cake dessert should not be missed.
$$ and $$$ | American, Brunch, and Burgers
Brunch, Full Bar, Happy Hour, Outdoor Dining, and Private Room